The state Office of Elections has given the major political parties a chance to find replacements for four candidates who withdrew from state House races, including one Republican candidate on Kauai who deliberately filed and withdrew papers before Tuesday’s deadline to buy time for the GOP to field a challenger against a popular Democrat.
State election officials have told party chairmen they can find substitutes for candidates who withdrew in state House District 14 in Hanalei, House District 18 in Aina Haina and House District 24 in Manoa. But only the Hawaii Republican Party will likely take advantage of the extension so the GOP can choose a new candidate to run against state Rep. Hermina Morita (D, Hanalei-Anahola-Kapaa), who otherwise would be unopposed.
Republicans were given until 4:30 p.m. today to find a replacement on Kauai.
"It will be filled," Jonah Kaauwai, state GOP chairman, promised.
Both parties have candidates in the other two House districts, so there is no reason to find replacements.
In e-mails to the parties yesterday, an election official explained that state law gives the parties three days after vacancies occur to find replacements. The law allows candidates to withdraw for any reason up until one day after the filing deadline — which was yesterday afternoon — or up to 20 days before an election for ill health.
Elections officials were not available to comment late yesterday.
Dante Carpenter, chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, said election officials were liberally interpreting the law. The Republican candidate on Kauai, David Hamman, filed and withdrew his paperwork on Monday, the day before the filing deadline. Republicans still had another day to find a candidate before the deadline.
"Frankly, it doesn’t square," Carpenter said.
Hamman, who owns a locksmith and security business, acknowledged that he filed and withdrew on Monday specifically to create a vacancy so the GOP would get the extra three days law allows to find a challenger to Morita.
"It was a strategic move," he said.
Hamman plans to run for the open state Senate seat vacated by former state Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau), who resigned to campaign for lieutenant governor. Hooser did not officially resign until Friday, triggering a 10-day extension of Tuesday’s filing deadline under a state law intended to give potential candidates time when vacancies occur so close to the deadline.
Hamman took out papers to run for the House last week as a precaution. He said he filed and withdrew for the House on Monday to buy some time for his party.
"It’s only fair," he said.
Morita has complained to election officials. She said her interpretation of the law is that it is meant to fill vacancies that occur after the filing deadline. She said Republicans did not have a candidate in place at the filing deadline, since Hamman withdrew on Monday, so she believes no vacancy exists.
"The Republicans are just trying to buy time by gaming the system," she said.